風になりたい! Kaze ni naritai! 

A look at life in Japan through big, round, gaijin eyes. Relfections on life in Japan, America, from the faceless streets of Tokyo. Let's blogging!

Friday, April 29, 2005

2005 Sakura 特集 #8 :鬼と桜


法螺吹き
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

Hope you all had a happy 緑の日 (Greenery Day- also the Showa Emperor's birthday). I used my day off to apply for a job. Whoa.

Check out how sweet Jun looks there at the Shingen Kou Matsuri in Kofu that we particpated in on April 9th. I think Jun would have rocked the sengoku period. He certainly would have been the only huge, bad-ass Korean in Japan. No one could've stopped him.

Because he's Korean-American, Jun doesn't get quite the celebrity treatment in Fujiyoshida as us the other JETs in this town who are Caucasian. Since he doesn't look that different from Japanese people (except that he's huge and built like an oni), he certainly ins't the object of the same rock-star/alien staring and pointing that we are. Plus it's not like anyone's ever really rude to him either... but it's almost like people are disappointed that he's not Japanese-American instead. After all, he speaks better Japanese than most of the people who live in this town, and he's got the the true fighting "Samurai" spirit that most young people in Japan lack nowadays. Yet according to Jun, there's just a little stigma here because he's Korean--as if the average person here thinks that makes him just a little below them.

It's just not right. Jun is about the most respect-worthy person I've ever met. Part of that respect does come from the fact that he can definitely beat me up, but up until now he has lived an incredible life and overcome numerous challenges to get this far. If there is anyone of the JETs in this town who deserves a little special treatment it's him. After all, the rest of us are working in schools because we happened to speak English. He's working in city hall because he decided to study his butt off and learn Japanese.

In other news, I put a big batch of pics up on Flickr. Probably won't post them all here. Check the sidebar for the link.

おやすみなさい。

Thursday, April 28, 2005

2005 Sakura 特集 #7: Job Hunt Blues


Sakura IX
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
It is hard to write a cover letter in Japanese, especially since Japanese people don't write cover letters.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

2005 Sakura 特集 #6: Deadly speed


Lantern with Sakura
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
Today there was a horrible train accident near Osaka. Every day, millions people in Japan use the train system. It is one of the most elaborate, on time, and safest train systems in the world. Yet according to the news, a 23-year-old conductor may have caused the death of over 50 people because he was rushing to catch up when his train fell behind schedule.

Apparently he stopped past the platform a few stations previous and had to back up because he couldn't slow down fast enough. The train was running 90 seconds late at that point. Supposedly he was only 60 seconds late at the next stop. There are suspicions that he was trying to make up that last minute and was running well over the recommended speed when the accident occurred, as a result of his haste.

Now, I am known for dashing in to arrive somewhere at the last possible minute. It's also no secret that unless it really is the last minute, I'm often just as likely to take my time and show up late. But I can't imagine a situation where the saftey of people who relied on me would be secondary to me making a deadline.

I mean... what's the big deal about 90 seconds? I suppose it's incredibly callous of me to try to justify my propensity for lateness by citing this incident so I'll stop now I think.

Besides I don't run a train line that's always on time, either. However, it'll be interesting to see if JR West and the other JR companies get a little more lax on punctuality now.

Anyway, whatever faith you believe in, please say a few prayers for the people involved in this accident, including the conductor. Also, Juri's mother is very ill, so prayers for her are welcome as well.

Good night.

Monday, April 25, 2005

2005 Sakura 特集 # 5: Green Tea

So it's my third post of the day. Yeah. I've had 6 cups of green tea today. My hands are shaking.

Sakura IV
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

I think there's only so long you can spend time somewhere before you lose the ability to describe that place. Or maybe it's the urgency to describe it that goes away. Afterward it just takes too much effort. I never realized there was a time limit on how long I'd have to explain my life here. I thought it would take me a long time to learn the right words to capture things. I never knew that once you learn the right words, it's too late.

If you ask a Japanese person to describe Mt. Fuji, they'll invitably say it's the tallest mountain in Japan. It's big. It's beautiful. Sometimes it's white, sometimes it's red. They can't really tell you what it actually looks like. It looks like Mt. Fuji.

When I first got to Japan, I could have said exactly what my apartment looks like on the inside. I could have told you what tatami smells like, how it feels when you lie on it, or what sound it makes under your feet. I remember being awed and overwhelmed the first time I visited the Fuji Sengen Shrine. I remember the shocking cold that sucked away my breath the first time I dove into Lake Motosu and peered into it's crystal clear depths with a mask and snorkel I borrowed from a friend.

When I first arrived in Japan, every day was a powerful new blast of sensory information. The vivid sights, sounds and smells that are unique to this country had me stumbling around in constant wonder. I want to feel that again. I want to be shocked and amazed and confused again, every day.

Maybe it's time to move on again? What happens when we put down roots and decide that we're going to live somewhere forever. Do we just say, this place is good: there is nothing to be surprised over? Maybe it's just part of life. As we get older, our experiences make us less and less equipped to feel wonder. I wonder how a 100 year old man feels any joy.

I want to go back and scream at myself to write it all down. Write it down now, while you still have the words, or don't have them, rather, because it's too difficult to understand.

...The suffocating heat of a damp summer night
...Lightning flashing in the clouds down the valley, below me
...The smoke on the wind, from an old man burning trash in his rice paddy
...A cherry tree blossoming absurdly above a rubish heap
...The bitterness of o-cha at the bottom of the cup
...A summer typhoon rattling the door to the storage closet on my veranda.
...Students' black dress uniforms contrasting with blue athletic warmups.
...The sterile, futuristic streets of Shinjuku's government district
...Twilit clouds reflecting through evenly spaced rice plants just sprouting out of a flooded field
...The first snow on Fuji
...The chewiness of an udon noodle
...The way o-toro sushi melts like butter in your mouth
...The cruching of snow under my tires
...The sulfury odor of an onsen
...Waking up with my the water in my toilet bowl frozen over
...Dust from the school ground blowing in a gale
...The shock of the first gedan mawashi-geri to my left thigh
..."7-11 いい気分"
...The incessant buzz of cicadas

more...

I think about so many things every day that I should write. I want the right words to come so that I can share all the things that are in my mind and not worry that it will all perish with me and come to naught. I think about how I could have told someone. You.
I don't know how to write about these things anymore.

I need another cup of tea.

2005 Sakura 特集#4: Labor blues


Sakura III
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
Apparently it's a good thing that I am a skilled laborer. If I didn't have my mad English skillz, I wouldn't be able to get a working visa in Japan.

The longest life expectancy in the world and a declining birth-rate is creating problems. The population in Japan is growing older, and in a decade or two there won't be enough young people entering the workforce to replace retiring workers. Not only will there be a labor shortage, but there will be a huge burden on workers to support the aged society. Even worse, the generation that inherits the biggest burden will be my students... the pampered children of the children of the bubble economy. Japanese test scores are bottoming out, social problems are increasing, and most of my kids don't even have a clue how to use the internet.

Still, one potential solution to the problems Japan is going to face would be to allow foreign unskilled laborers to immigrate into Japan. Then I could get a lucrative construction job.

Fat chance (at least for now), say the powerful advocates for the bloated, parasitic construction industry (etc.). Still, talk to them again in 20 years when no one is available to concrete the forests...

Speaking of which, sakura aren't really blue.

2005 Sakura 特集 # 3: New World Gold


Sakura II
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
Ian has updated his blog with adventures from Columbia. Glad to hear he's still alive.

http://iangordon.blogspot.com -Suburban Macondo

Friday, April 22, 2005

2005 Sakura 特集 #2


Sakura I
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
Last night I arbitrarily decided to publish a lot of my sakura pictures that I've taken this year. The text will usually not have anything to do with cherry blossoms. So.

Why is it that my gym doesn't open 'til 11am? Plus, there is always decent music piping into the lobby and locker rooms, but in the weight room they only play slow 80s pop or dance mega-mixes on a 60 minute loop. Plus all the weights are naturally in kilograms, not lbs. In America, some guy would have burnt the place down by now in a creatine-induced rage.

Burned?

None of the equipment was purchased in the last 15 years. There're no rowing machines or slightly overweight girls trying to burn off the calories they ate at dinner either. They close every month for a few days to give the staff some time off. In fact, if it didn't cost 3 times as much as a gym membership in the states, I wouldn't even call it a "gym". But I just can't justify spending that much money if it were just a weight room at a health club.

(See, nothing to do with cherry blossoms.)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

2005桜特集#1:さくらの夕焼け


Sakura Twilight
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
For the last two days here in Kamikurechi, sakura petals have been falling like snow. The height of spring has arrived, and gradually summer heat will begin to creep into the lengthening days.
Cherry blossoms are symbolic of the ephemeral beauty of our lives. We are all transient, and we all burst into full bloom before falling and scattering into the wind. The sakura are most beautiful when fully open, but there is beauty in their passing as well.

Meet Vernon

I never intended to make this blog a soapbox for me to preach about my beliefs, and I promise I won't make a habit of this, but I wanted to introduce something amazing that one of my friends is doing that I think needs a little background. So for those of you who don't like politics, you can probably skip this post. (But don't really...)

Since I've come to Japan, I've fallen out of the practice of debating controversial issues. I used to love to argue. Now, especially when I'm talking to someone who is Japanese, I'm just as likely to knod my head in agreement--even with someone whose opinions I fundamentally oppose--and intone something non-committal like, 「そうですね」 [oh yes, that's right...]. In many situations in Japan, keeping harmony with the people around you (especially your elders) is more important than expressing your true feelings about something. I find it amazing that I have adopted that characteristic; growing up in America I was never known to be compromising about the things I believed in.

Still, despite living in Japan and growing a little older, I don't think my fundamental political inclinations have changed at all. Possibly I've lost a little of the idealism I had when I was younger, but I still believe that at the end of the day, we are better off with a liberal government than a conservative one. While I'm not exactly drinking Michael Moore's kool-aid, I find the extreme right very disturbing, and it makes me very uncomfortable to think that organized religion and big business have so much clout over their policy making decisions.

That being said, I don't get how the same people who are so furious with the "activist" judiciary for its "misbehavior" can be so hypocritical (in my opinion) when it actually comes to some questions of human rights, especially the right to life.

The most baffling contradiction to me is how anyone who argues that abortion should be abolished and that Terry Schiavo should have been kept alive by the state can turn around and support the death penalty. That these people base their righteousness in their Christianity is more confusing. What makes people Christians is that they follow Jesus Christ and his teachings, right? And didn't Jesus ask people to forgive one another? And wasn't he executed when there was more good he could have done on earth? (Believing that the crucifixion brought the salvation of mankind is not exactly a justification for further executions.) No matter how heinous a crime might be, I don't see how the state can judge that a man deserves to die for his crimes. Especially thinking as a Christian, I don't know how any man with an imperfect, human knowledge and understanding of right and wrong can judge someone else to death. It just seems incredibly presumptuous and demeaning of the value of human life. The late Pope John Paul II agreed with many pro-lifers that abortion is a sin against the Christian God, and that life should be preserved at all costs. But he strongly opposed the death penalty as well, which is something that many conservative Americans who claim to have coinciding values with him gloss over. I hope that Pope Benedict XVI makes this more clear, if indeed he has the same values as his predesessor on these issues.

Or something like that. (While I'm at it, I should mention I am for outlawing, or at least severely restricting access to guns for civilians. And public health care. I think I'm done now.)

The point of this little rant is to introduce a website edited and maintained by one of my good friends. It's called Meet Vernon: The First Death Row Blogger, and it literally is a chance to meet one of the inmates on Maryland's Death Row. Whether you are pro- or anti-death penalty, it's a well-done site worth checking out that (I think) humanizes the issue in a way that often gets lost in all the rhetoric. Of course, the site is against captial punishment, but I don't think that should deter people with the opposite mindset from checking it out and seeing what they think about it. I know for a fact that the editor welcomes both positive and (polite) negative feedback.

Anyway...sorry if you don't like reading that sort of stuff here. I think I said somewhere that it's my blog and I can write what I want to... so there. Hah!

I'm done.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Nihonjin yori nihonjin (日本人より日本人)

Nihonjin yori...

Paul plays an impromptu performance on the three-stringed shamisen at an after dinner gathering with some co-workers. There is something of what I love about Japan but can never explain in words in the tune he is playing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Friends' Links Updated

Please take some time to check out my friends' links over there in the sidebar. They're all great sites, but I've taken the liberty of roughly lining them up in order of how frequently they're updated. Plus, today I added Wayne and Linda's blog, 春の目覚め--The Awakening of Spring. They posted some cool pics of the Shingen kou Matsuri festival from last weekend. We all look totally sweet in our badass samurai getups. Woo!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Acapella Madness

For a child of the nintendo generation, this link is so cool.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

樹里のオーストリア日記 part 3 : On top of Sydney

This is the final part of Juri's Australia diary. You can follow these links to Part 1 and Part 2.

Opera House
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.




From Ayer's Rock, we flew to Sydney. We saw the famous Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge with our tour group.


Beauty and the Bridge
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.


During our free time, my sister and I strolled through downtown. We went down a little street and came out at a small plaza that looked like an Italian streetcorner. It was a very cute little street so I snapped some photos.


Side Street
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

My sister, Minori, is interested in Aboriginal instruments, so she wanted a didjeridoo. We went to a store in a little arcade to look for one. The guy working there, played a bunch of different types of didjeridoos for us. Apparently he had an aboriginal grandmother, and the master of a famous Japanese didjeridoo master player named Goma. I tried too, but everyone lauged at me because the only sound I could make sounded like a fart. But I kept trying and in the end I got a little better, enough so that an old woman tourist who remarked, "My, haven't you gotten better!" My sister bought a mid-length didjeridoo, and I bought two boomerangs.

That night we went on a showboat dinner cruise. It was quite an elaborate dinner with lobster, crab, and other expensive foods. The tour pamphlet advertised "A fabulous show with singing, dancing and magic to enjoy in style on the lit up Sydney Harbor," but it should have said "a decent show with a glorified karaoke singer, out of place cheerleaders, a couple of dancing pretty boys who will the first to go if they cut the budget at all, and a sketchy fast-talking parlor magician." Well, whatever... it was fun anyway. Still, one thing that I couldn't figure out was why everyone was blonde or dyed blonde? Is blonde hair more suitable for the show? Was one of the terms of employment for applicants "seeking blondes with mediocre talents"? If their real, dark hair grew out, do they lose salary? Like a $5 pay cut for each centimeter of dark hair? I guess I couldn't get hired for the show--that's too bad.


Reservation Center
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
The next day, our last in Australia, was all free time, so Minori and I decided to attempt a climb of the Harbor Bridge. I had to make the reservations all by myself, in English, but it was no problem. At the center, there were pictures of Nicole Kidman and Kylie Minogue, who I guess had done the same climb. When we got there, we had to put on Star Trek-like suits, to which they attached a lifeline. The guide gave us some earphones, and we were off! It was really high, so I was a little afraid at first, but I kept telling myself over and over, "it's not scary, it's not scary," as we went up. The view at the top was really amazing, and cool wind felt good. I definitely recommend a bridge climb to anyone who travels to Sydney.
Anyway... to sum up, what I really wanted to say is that with such a fantastic girlfriend, Jason is really a happy (and lucky) guy. The end.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Best Website (by a JET) Ever?

Today, Paul sent me a a link to I am a Japanese Schoolteacher, by a JET down near Kyoto who calls himself Azrael. If you want to know the truth about Japanese kids and their unholy obsession with sticking their fingers up the rear ends of their hapless Assistant Language Teachers, then definitely click the link. (*disclaimer for my mom* I am not responsible for the strong language or the sexual content on his site. I'd say it's definitely R-rated content.) I cannot stress enough that Azrael's editorials put my posts to shame in every way. I have laughed aloud at my desk so many times today it hurts. Simply put, BEST. WEBSITE. EVER. Teh awesome! P.S.- I don't know what "the octopus" is.

The following is a long sample, posted without permission, from the site. I chose it because it's rather clean and still funny. It belongs to it's writer Azrael, so I suppose I should email him and ask him if it's cool. But if you go to his site I suppose he'll be happy. And you will laugh. I cut and paste, so the indentation and page breaks got messed up.

Gaijin Smash

When I did my self-introduction to my students, I claimed to be an English-teaching superhero. I was mostly joking, but my friends and I have found that living here does in fact grant us superpowers. Like Superman under a yellow sun, except it's gaijin under the Rising Sun. So one night, we decided to catalogue all the superpowers we'd acquired. This is what we came up with. And yes, a lot of beer was involved.

Gaijin Smash - I can't take credit for the Gaijin Smash, it was my friend's creation. Which is what led to this whole thing. But anyway, the Gaijin Smash is basically just us exerting our inheritant dominance over the Japanese people. We do what we want and they can't stop us, and we have them do what we want cause they can't stand up to us. It's beautiful. It's hard to specifically define Gaijin Smash, so I'll just give you some examples....
One of my friends, a former JET, when we went out drinking he'd just buy the cheapest ticket home to get him through the gates. When we got back here, of course his ticket caused the gate alarms to go off. But he'd just plow right through and walk ahead. The station worker guy would look up, and he'd want to say something, he really did. But then he was confronted by a Gaijin walking quickly away from him. I can only imagine the thoughts running through his head. "Oh my God! Do I have to speak English? What if I make him angry? Will he eat my children?" Paralyized, the worker can only stand there while my friend walks away. Gaijin Smash.

Or, take a look at recent current events. Japan has troops in Iraq. Japan barely has troops at all yet there they are in Iraq. Why do you think that is?
President Bush: Hey Japan, America's gonna invade Iraq. We want you to send us some troops for support. Prime Minister Koizumi: Um, but...we don't really have an army, just a Self-Defense Force. And NOBODY here has anything to do with Iraq, the public is strongly anti-war, it's kind of pointless for us... Bush: I don't care. Coalition of the Willing. You're coming. Koizumi: Ok. I'm sorry for my insolence. The troops are on their way. Bush: Oh yeah. Gaijin Smash.

For the record, the first ever Gaijin Smash recorded in history was performed by Commodore Matthew Perry (no "Friends" jokes/references, they've all been done before. Twice) in 1853. Japan had closed its borders and was very isolationist. Then one day, Perry rolls up demanding Japan open it's borders for foreign commerce...
Perry: Hey! Open up Japan! The Japanese: That's an interesting idea. Here's another one. How about we shuffle our feet until you get frustrated and leave? Perry: A'ight. I'll be back.
7 months later, Perry returns with 9 (count 'em) gunships.
Perry: Hey Japan! Open up. Or I'll blast you clear into China. The Japanese: .......Ah! Mr. Perry-san, welcome to Japan! Please do come in! Perry: Gaijin Smash.

Oh, before I forget, I should explain that as guests in a foreign country, we should try to learn and assimilate some of our host's culture and tradition. So if you are ever in a position to perform some of these attacks, you should first strike a series of stylish and overblown poses, while screaming out the attack name with all your might. Anything less is just...dishonorable.

Oh, and before you actually do that though, you should smirk and explain exactly how your attack works and what you did to get it. For example, for Gaijin Smash, one might say (heh, I still love "one might say"...) "Haha, I have already won this fight. I shall now show you the awesome power of my Gaijin Smash. I acquired this attack when I was born having a bigger body than you. Over the years, I developed it by keeping up a steady diet of McDonalds, and parking in the closest spaces to wherever I went. It is the perfect attack."
Although the explanation speech works best if one of your friends who is watching gives it for you (while you keep your smirk up), in the absence of friends or onlookers you can say it yourself.

Gaijin Perimeter - This is our natural ability to just repel people. An explanation is needed.
Down here in Kansai, getting on a train is not as simple as you'd think. You can be standing by yourself on the platform out in the middle of ka-bum-fuck, Japan, waiting for the train. When the train actually rolls up, you'll turn and see yourself absoultely surrounded by old women and businessmen. I swear, they just teleport in out of nowhere (at least they don't yell "Breasts!" at me...). The doors open, and it's literally every man, woman, and child for themselves in a battle to get a seat. They'll push and bump you out of the way, they just don't care. It's vicious.

Now, keeping this in mind...there are times when we are riding on the train, and yet no one, no one will sit next to us. There's plenty of space, we don't stink...but they just won't do it. So basically, Japanese people will elbow each other in the face to get a seat, but they won't sit next to us. Nice! It's easy to get discouraged by this, but we just have to remember that we are naturally spreading our Gaijin Perimeter.
It can be useful though. Imagine you are walking down the street one day when you see an old lady faint from heat exhaustion. A crowd of onlookers begin to gather around her. That's no good! But don't panic! Just jump in and spread your Gaijin Perimeter, give her the space she needs until paramedics arrive on the scene. A tense situation averted!

Gaijin Telepathy - Our co-workers and supervisors don't tell us anything. Literally. One day, I came into work at the ghetto school and found a straw hat and pair of garden gloves on my desk. .....Ok. I was kind of waiting for an explanation, but one never came. So I was sitting in the teacher's room, and eventually I noticed it had gotten really quiet. I looked up to find I was the only one in there. Odd. I went outside to find the whole school, teachers and students, picking weeds in the soccer and baseball fields. Ah, so that's what the garden hat and gloves were for! However, no one actually told me this.
I can only assume that they expected me to somehow divine the meaning of the hat and gloves with my Gaijin Telepathy. This kind of thing happens all the time, and sometimes with really important stuff ("Hey, why didn't you come to my class today? What? No one told you?"). I kind of think that Japanese watched the movie X-Men/X2, and thought "Wow! Captain Picard is a telepath! All Gaijin must be telepaths!" Maybe they also expect me to control the weather too, which would explain why they're always saying "samui ne?" in the winter ("It's cold, huh?") and "atsui ne?" in the summer ("it's hot, huh?"). I guess I'm supposed to fly up, tilt my head, and say something like "Gods of the weather skies! Expel this cold front and give us good weather for golfing!" I will draw the line however if they ask me to use my adamantium claws to slice their sushi.

Gaijin Power - I was in the local bar with two male friends, American and Japanese. This bar is kind of known for being a pick-up bar, especially for Japanese women and foreign men. Anyway, our Japanese friend spotted a cute girl. We told him to go talk to her, but he refused, saying it was pointless cause he'd only fail. We tried to tell him he wouldn't know until he actually tried, but no go. "You guys don't understand," he says. "You have Gaijin Power so you have no problems getting girls."
...Gaijin Power? The hell is that? This wasn't the first time I'd heard this from Japanese men though. So my friend and I decided to find out more about this "Gaijin Power". We both set out and, working as a Dynamic Duo (Holy Japanese sluts, Batman!), we found pairs of Japanese girls and tried to talk to them. We were pretty unsuccessful though, which leads me to believe our Japanese friend was full of shit. Or maybe we just suck.

Gaijin Optic Blast - This is actually more of a counter-attack. We foreigners get stared at. A lot. Gaijin Optic Blast is the wonderful technique of staring back. It's so easy, yet so effective! As soon as they realize we're staring back, they look away, it's like a projectile version of the Gaijin Smash. The only thing is, you have to keep up the Gaijin Optic Blast, cause as soon as they think you are looking away, they resume staring. Do it right though, and once is a charm.
On bad days, I'll spread my Gaijin Perimeter, and combo a Gaijin Optic Blast into a Gaijin Smash for 70% damage. And when I have meter...watch out, cause then I can cancel into Super Gaijin Smash, and there's just no coming back from that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

塾:juku cram schools

My friend sent me this article from Business Week, a publication that um... I don't read so often... enough. It's about Japanese cram schools, one of the banes of my existence. I should clarify. It's not that I have anything against kids wanting to get ahead, but when cram schools catering to those kids are a huge moneymaking industry, I find it pretty disgusting. That and the fact that the kids that go to juku just screw off in class because they've already "learned" the material, don't do their homework because the homework at juku is more important, distract other kids who actually need help because they can't go to cram school, and STILL don't get good grades because they just go to juku to meet their friends and they're punks to begin with.

On the other hand, if I haven't found one by the beginning of July, that's where I'll be knocking down the door asking for a job.

Monday, April 11, 2005

平成17年度入学式 -- Japanese JHS Entrance Ceremony

It is my humble opinion that Japanese life --and by extension, Japanese school-life-- is thouroughly grounded in making incredibly huge productions out of every little thing. I suppose there's a right and wrong way to do things, but in the West we're much more concerned with results than the process. Not so in Japan.

On Wednesday, April 6th, business got started in earnest at my school. Not only was it the first day of school for the kiddies, but there were three ceremonies lined up back to back to back.
Of course, first all the returning second and third graders got to find out their new homeroom classes. Of course, a small riot ensued.


I'm in ni-kumi
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.


At right, Suguru Togawa says he's in class 3-2


Despite the happy face, Akiyo Shimira doesn't really like English class. Lies and more lies.

After learning their homerooms, the returning 新二年生and新三年生 got to participate in the 親任式 (shin'nin shiki), the ceremony where the new staff members are introduced and welcomed into the school. In Japan, some staff members are transferred to other schools at the between each school year. Supposedly this helps keep schools from becoming too set in their ways, and can often fix problem schools over the 10 day break between school years. From my school, 10 of the 22 staff members we had last year were replaced by 6 new full-time and 2 new part-time teachers. Since I'm leaving in August, it's kind of strange welcoming in new people for such a short time. Many of the people I was closest to have gone before me. Still, everyone who came in, including the new 教頭先生(vice principal) and the new school nurse, seem like really nice folks. Rather than missing my old coworkers, I'm bummed that I'll only get a little while to spend getting to know this new group.

After lunch, the new first years, or 入学生 (nyuugakusei) as they're called when they first enter the school) showed up to a warm welcome from their 先輩 (senpai). I've talked about the senpai-kohai relationship before, but the welcoming of new students is one of the nicer manifestations of it. Senpai promise to be good examples for the kohai, who promise to respect, and learn from their senpai. The cycle goes on and on, with each passing year. I guess a lot of institutions in America are similar, but here it is absolutely institutionalized through every aspect of the society. Though I'm personally of the opinion that sometimes respect must be earned, the Japanese believe (in theory anyway) that age brings wisdom and knowledge, and therefore makes someone naturally more worthy of respect.



It's all good
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.


Senpai Reo Otani tells the new kids not to worry.


Senpai - Kohai
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

Shun Shimura pins a ribbon on an incoming new student



The actual 入学式(nyuugakushiki)or School Entrance Ceremony is a major deal. Just like the graduation ceremony marks the end of a stage of life for Japanese kids, the entrance ceremony is a scary, but exciting new beginning. Elementary school kids in Japan are a lot like elementary school kids in America or anywhere else. They have a lot of freedom, and they're basically learning basic skills, like reading, writing (well, the beginning of writing, in a society with thousands of kanji characters to learn), and arithmatic. They don't have school uniforms, and their schools are full of color, laughter, and fun. Junior high school students, on the other hand, are at the beginning of the transition into not only adulthood, but Japanese adulthood. In JHS, the rules of Japanese society are hammered into the kids for the first time. At the same time as the hammering out of individuality and creativity (I exaggerate a little) sounds kind of creepy from a Western perspective, it is something to be proud of here. Certainly, there is a huge difference bettween outgoing 3rd graders and incoming 1st graders (though that might just be puberty).

Anyway, everybody gets all dressed up for the 入学式: mothers come to school in nice dresses and sometimes kimonos; the male teachers should wear black suits with celebritory white neckties; and 校長先生, the school principal, wears a tuxedo jacket complete with tails. A slew of special guests come, including the mayor, or one of his representatives (he rotates to different schools in town every year). And of course, the biggest guests of honor are the still 12-year-old new nyuugakusei.

I can't wait until...
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

"I can't wait until 2 years from now, when I can roll up my skirt way above my knees, dye my hair orange, and wear baggy white socks that I glue to my calves," thought the new ichi nensei girls.



Boy this ceremony is long...
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
新一年生put on a brave face at the School Entrance Ceremony



入学生代表
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
Arihiro Shimura promises Kocho Sensei that he and his fellow new students will become good junior high school students

Nakamura Sensei: Ichi nensei shunin by day, English teacher by... well, also by day.


Per any Japanese ceremony, there are thousands of speeches and apologies, and lots of standing, sitting, and bowing at attention. A representative of the new students promises (while lying through his teeth) that the class will all try their hardest to be good students to Kocho sensei. Then head teacher of the first graders' class promises the moms he'll take care of their kids for the next three years. (I don't know if that's a legally binding promise, but it seems like at this point, Japanese parents are now free to bugger off and let their junior high schoolers do whatever they want to. I can't say I'm looking at the situation objectively though).

Finally, the local bigshot guests leaves, the pomp and circumstance ends, the tears are dried, and the ceremony is finished. At my school, this year we decided that after the nyuugakushiki would be the perfect time for the 始業式(shigyoushiki=opening ceremony) for the new school year, since all the mothers were still around and might want to check it out. Despite that at this point the locked up gymnasium was about 3000 degrees, this is one of the only fun ceremonies we have all year, and it didn't disappoint. At the first opening ceremony of the year, the principal announces teacher and homeroom assignments. Thus it's our one chance as teachers to play with the kids' minds and try to fake them out.

I really have to say that it warmed my heart when class 2-2 let out a cheer when I stepped forward at attention, straightened my tie, and pretended that I was about to be called their homeroom teacher. Unfortunately, I know I don't have what it takes to be a real 担任先生(tan'nin=bearing responsability teacher), but the kids certainly thought I could handle it. To their credit, they still clapped for the new teacher who is actually responsable for them.

I ought to stop here before the details get any more trivial, I suppose. Plus I need to go home from school. So... 起立! (Stand up!) 気をつけ、礼! (attention, bow!) 「これで入学式についての文書を完了させていただきます。」 ("Please allow me to bring this post about the entrance ceremony to a close.") 気をつけ、礼! (attention, bow!) 着席!(Be seated!)

桜咲け!


井の頭公園の桜

Happy Monday. Spring has come with a vengeance to bludgeon away the last remnants of winter with temperatures in the high 20s and even low 30s (that's high 80s fahrenheit). And to think it was snowing last Monday...

The sakura are in full bloom in Tokyo, and the blossoms are spreading up through the valleys, up the slope of Fujisan, where I live. Saturday they reached my danchi, and soon the whole town will be awash in a sea of white and pink for a few days. 桜咲け! (Sakura, bloom!) says a song by a band I really hate.

Lots I want to update about, so long as I can connect from school--which reminds me, I have to be there in 19 minutes. Dang.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Wayne Lam is Dead

Wayne Lam is Dead

To honor former sengoku period warlord Takeda Shingen, ruler of Kai no kuni (present day Yamanashi prefecture), a contingent of us Yoshidans suited up for battle and headed to the capital city of Kofu for the Shingen Ko Matsuri. Of course, the first thing they did with was kill the foreigners.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Hard at Work

Hard at Work

The invisible man contemplates his role in the workplace...
In other words, my internet has gone down and I ain't got nothing to do.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

What if you're blogging in a foreign language?

This article says I shouldn't blog about my job, or from my job, because I could get fired. Well, what if most of the people I work with can't read my posts in English? Huh, huh? What then?

In unrelated news, we had 3 ceremonies at my school yesterday. Looks like I have all afternoon at work free to blog about them...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

樹里のオーストラリア日記:Part 2- Juri and Mi-chan Hot on the Rocks


Climbing Through the Olgas
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.
(This is part 2 of Juri's Australia diary. It took me too long to post this so now I'm in trouble. For part 1, you can click here.)


The place that left the biggest impression on me was Ayer's Rock. Apparently the Aboriginals call it Uluru. Since it originally belong to the Aboriginal people, we ought to respect that and call it Uluru as well. Inside of Uluru National Park, we went to see Mt. Olga.

Uluru National Park
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

Red desert was all around, with big mountains shaped like onigiri [rice balls] that reared up suddenly above us. There were sideways holes that looked like windows, as if someone were living inside. Many times along the way, there were bridges spanning little valleys, but they were always painted in red to match the color of the soil precisely. This is a good point about the Australian people I think. It was nice that there were no McDonald's in the valley at the foot of Mount Olga. I think we can agree that it's a good thing Americans aren't in charge at Uluru.

The temperature in the desert was 50 degrees Celsius (122F) in the sun, and 40 in the shade. Coming from the frozen North, in Hokkaido--where it was -10 degress (14F) when we left for Australia--I soon succumbed to the heat. I entrusted my camera to my sister, Minori, and while everyone else was outside taking pictures and toasting the Uluru sunset with champagne, I was left lying alone in the bus with a wet towel on top of my head. For heat exhaustion, I guess it's best to cool your body from the top of your skull on down. Now and then, the bored looking guide and the cute driver would take turns coming back to talk with me. I wanted make that cute driver smile, so I made a few little jokes. Though they were in English, the jokes went over better than I could have imagine, and i got to see his white teeth and shining eyes. After a little while, the guide came back calling as well, and I watched the sunset under his endless barrage of questions and the hot gaze of the driver. Those eyes... might he be suffering from heat exhaustion as well? I ventured. Maybe he would be better off with a cool towel on his head as well, at least until I came up with more jokes? [Jason's note: the driver in question has been found and summarily fed to the dingos.]


Juri and Minori
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

Looking at the majestic grandeur of red Uluru, I could feel the pulse of the earth. I wish I could have shared that view with Jason, too.


The next day, we climbed Uluru. However, since I didn't want to get heat exhaustion again, Minori and I climbed half way up, and then went walking around the base. In the picture, you can see that the woman behind me has a net covering her head, but I can assure you it's not because she suffers from acrophobia and doesn't want to see what's around her.

No fly net? No problem!
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.

Actually it's to protect her from the flies that relentlessly come flying into one's face, mouth, and nose. Back at the bus there were a bunch of nets you could borrow, but I thought it would look bad in the pictures, so I decided not to wear one. That was a big mistake. Desert flies will burrow into the smallest crevices, seeking moisture. Fortunately, let's say, after the walk I didn't need lunch. I already had a full belly...

[Stay tuned for the final part of Juri's Australia adventure, coming this week or I'm toast!]

Friday, April 01, 2005

Road Trip Photo Journal

In the three days I had off during Spring Vacation, I took off on a little 3 day road trip with two friends, Pat and Taiisa. These are the collected pictures and posts I uploaded from my mobile phone, while travelling.


05-03-29_13-17
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.







Click here for Day 1











05-03-30_15-00~00
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.







Click here for Day 2








Monk
Originally uploaded by bonitsky.








Click here for Day 3